Tropical Systems: Why do we name them?

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FILE – This Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011 NOAA satellite image shows Hurricane Irene, a category 2 storm with winds up to 100 mph and located about 400 miles southeast of Nassau. According to a study published Monday, Oct. 14, 2019 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, scientists have discovered a real life mash-up of two feared disasters _ hurricanes and earthquakes _ called “stormquakes.” It’s a shaking of the sea floor during a hurricane or nor’easter that rumbles like a magnitude 3.5 earthquake. It’s a fairly common natural occurrence that wasn’t noticed before because it was in the seismic background noise. (Weather Underground via AP)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark- Have you ever wondered why we name tropical systems and how they get their names? Well, get ready to learn!

Before the early 1950s, Atlantic tropical systems were not named. In an especially busy year, if you had multiple systems impacting an area, you can see how it might become difficult to communicate a weather message about a particular system.

So, in 1953, tropical storms began being given a name. This short and easy to remember name was better communicated in the telling of the weather story.

Since that time, Atlantic tropical storms have been given a name from a list that originates from the National Hurricane Center but maintained and updated through a strict procedure conducted by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

They not only keep up with the naming of the Atlantic Ocean tropical system basin but 9 other tropical naming regions as well! For more on the strict naming procedures and the other tropical naming regions, you can find that information HERE.

Back to the basin that impacts the United States the most, the Atlantic Ocean. While there have been a few rare moments when an eastern Pacific Ocean storm has impacted the contiguous U.S., 99% of all tropical systems that the lower 48 deal with come from the Atlantic Ocean.

Each year, there are 21 names on a list that can be used to name a tropical system. Why 21? That is based on the average of storms that have occurred each year in the Atlantic. Since it is rare to see more than that, there isn’t a need to develop more names. If in some event like the 2005 hurricane season we use up all of the names on the list, we will move to the Greek alphabet.

For 2020, here are the following names:


There are in total six lists that are used in rotation and are re-cycled every six years. For example, the 2019 Atlantic tropical season names will be used again in 2025.

The only time that there is a change to the list is when a storm creates so much damage or numerous deaths that the name will be retired. The retiring of a name is decided annually with the WMO. Once it is decided to be taken off the list, a new name is decided on to replace it.

Each name starts with a letter of the alphabet minus a couple of letters that are not used like Q, U, X, Y, and Z. These letters are not common ones used for the beginning of enough names to keep them rotating on a list.

Also, if you look at the list of names being used over the next six years, you will notice that male and female names are alternating. If a male name is used for the letter “A” this year, then a female name will be used for letter “B” this year and letter “A” for next year.

For the full six-year list of Atlantic names including names of other basins and their pronunciation guides click HERE.

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